New Zealand Rugby has granted conditional approval for two Pacific Island teams to join an Australia-New Zealand Super Rugby tournament beginning next year.
Moana Pasifika, a team of players of Samoan and Tongan heritage, would likely be based in South Auckland, while the Fiji Drua would be based in Suva, the Fiji capital.
They would join New Zealand’s five teams and Australia’s five teams in the proposed tournament next year.
New Zealand Rugby in November last year confirmed the teams as its preferred Pacific partners, subject to their meeting certain financial criteria.
A cash injection of about US$5 million over three years by World Rugby helped to ensure the inclusion of Pacific teams in Super Rugby for the first time.
New Zealand Rugby would still require the teams to produce business plans showing that they are financially and commercially sustainable, and that they can be competitive on the field.
Rugby Australia has also yet to signal its approval.
The announcement was made at a news conference yesterday by New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson, Moana Pasifika representatives, and former All Blacks Michael Jones and Bryan Williams.
“We are finalizing business plans as we’ve said already,” Robinson said. “We are conditional on that and obviously our friends at Rugby Australia — we have ongoing dialogue there that we will continue to participate in. It’s very constructive at the moment. We’re on the frontier of something extremely exciting for our competitions.”
Williams, who is of Samoan and Tongan heritage, was one of the first Pacific Island players to play for the All Blacks and later became president of New Zealand Rugby. Jones played one match for Samoa before transferring his allegiance to New Zealand, for whom he played 55 Tests. Both are former Samoa coaches.
Williams and Jones have long campaigned for a Pacific team in Super Rugby and could not contain their excitement at yesterday’s announcement.
“It probably should have happened 25 years ago,” Williams said. “But World Rugby needed to look after its own affairs and aspirations, and as a result, we got left out in the cold. It was hugely disappointing at the time, but here we are.”
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga hope the Pacific teams would lure home players signed to teams in Britain, Europe and Japan, but it seems unlikely that the Super Rugby teams could match the salaries paid to top Pacific players overseas.
Jones said that the inclusion of Pacific teams in Super Rugby would be received with excitement by Pacific communities.
“It will bring a lot of joy, a lot of hope and I think a sense of belief that something that has been a long-held dream and aspiration ... we’re on the cusp of that coming to fruition,” he said. “Pacific people love rugby. It’s part of their culture and who they are, and part of the fabric of their society.”
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